14 Ancient Symbols of Love and What They Stand For

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Love is as difficult to describe as it is easy to recognize. When you know, you know, as an old adage would say. Almost every person who has walked the earth has tried to define love through prose and action, but there has never been a universal definition. It’s because love is never the same for two different people.

Now, when people can’t explain something with words, they turn to symbolism. As a result, love has become one of the most symbolized concepts in history. Here’s how the earliest romantics communicated the intricacies of love using symbols:

Cupid

cupid symbol

The lovelorn have always appealed to Cupid, a winged child carrying a bow and a bag of arrows. According to mythology, the boy would strike his arrows and pierce the hearts of two people, causing them to instantly fall in love.

He is mischievous though, and would constantly match gods with mortals, or two mortals who are nothing alike. The image of a winged infant with his arrows has since become the most recognizable Valentine symbols.

In art, Cupid is often depicted with a blindfold, to signify that love has nothing to do with what the eyes can see.

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The Ankh

Ankh symbol

People often mistake the Ankh as a Christian symbol because it bears an uncanny resemblance to Christ’s cross, only with a circle on top.

Originally from ancient Egypt, the ankh has taken on various names as it adapted by other cultures. It is called the cross of life, the key to life, or even the ‘cross with a handle’.

Egyptian art depicts gods holding up the Ankh to the nose of the Pharaoh, giving him eternal life. However, the symbol is also used to symbolize fertility and the union between man and woman. The Ankh speaks to a lot of cultures because it also represents love, the key to life.

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Claddagh Symbol

Claddagh ring

This ancient symbol of love derives its history from a hauntingly beautiful Irish legend of a fisherman who was separated from the love of his life after falling captive to pirates who traded him as a slave. 

Each day, while tending fires at his masters’ goldsmith shop, the fisherman would steal flecks of gold. Years passed, and he was finally able to forge a ring to present to his love if he ever got to return home. 

From the flecks of gold he carefully stowed away for years, the fisherman made a ring showing a heart wearing a crown while being held by two hands. The symbol was then immortalized and nicknamed ‘Claddagh,’ after the fishing village where the devoted paramour first lived.

To this day, the symbol is used to represent undying love and unfaltering loyalty. Claddagh rings remain one of the most symbolic types of engagement or wedding rings.

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Clasped Hands

Holding hand

While holding someone’s hand is a universal love language, the symbolism of clasped hands is associated with a very different kind of love.

In old Victorian tombstones, it is common to see clasped hands engraved, sculpted, or drawn in tombstones. The symbol portrayed eternal love, which transcends even death. 

Clasped hands portrayed the unsevered connection between the living and the dead, so long as they were once bound with love. For married couples, it is almost a promise that although one of them had already gone ahead, they would surely meet again someday.

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Flames

Flames symbol

Open fire is a widely recognized symbol for love – the passionate, fiery kind. It is a testament to how fickle desire can be since flame can be extinguished almost as quickly as it starts. As they say, the hottest love has the coldest end.

Back in the day, when you referred to someone as an ‘old flame’ of yours, you weren’t just referring to a former boyfriend or girlfriend. An old flame was someone who you loved fiercely, almost destructively, only to lose them in the end as the flame turns into embers. In modern-day parlance, an old flame is similar to the concept of the one that got away.

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Apple

Woman holding apple

The forbidden fruit is used to symbolize the physical, carnal, and slightly dangerous aspects of love. This is why the Roman goddess of desire and love, Venus, is usually drawn holding an apple. Biblically, the apple is said to symbolize temptation and forbidden desires of the heart and the flesh.

In Chinese culture, giving someone an apple is akin to giving them red roses in adoration, while in the seventh century, it was common to see newlyweds share an apple on their wedding day to symbolize eternal love and a lasting union. 

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Dove

Dove flying

You may know doves are the universal symbol for peace. But these white-feathered birds also represent love. This association dates back to the Middle Ages when people thought that dove birds pick their mates on the exact date of Valentine’s Day. 

Doves also represent romance for the Ancient Greeks because Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, is often depicted with doves flying around or resting on her hands. Plus, these birds are also believed to be monogamous, which is  why they are also usually a part of wedding day celebrations, when the couple release doves into the air. 

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Swan

Swan symbol of love

Aside from doves, swans are also commonly connected to love because of their loyalty to their mate. It is believed that a union between swans lasts forever. That’s why they say that when a swan appears before you, it’s a sign of love that you must not ignore.

On top of it all, swans are also known to represent motherly love because they are known to be fiercely protective of their young. 

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Love Knot

Love knot

The love knot or the lover’s knot is more than just a symbol of love. It represents the unbreakable bond and connection between a couple. A love knot is also a common symbol for the unity between partners. In fact, it was so famous that it has become part of several literary pieces all over the world including a short story in India, part of the prologue of the Canterbury Tales, and was also referenced in a poem written by Alfred Noyes.

There are many variations of the love knot. But it is usually given by young lovers to their partners to test their relationship. If the love knot does not break after a year of wearing, it means that their love would stand the test of time.

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Celtic Love Knot

A variation of the love knot, the Celtic Love knot deserves its own spot on this list because it looks beautiful and it also has different meanings depending on its designs.

  • Celtic Oval Love Knot (aka spiral love knot) – This is one of the simplest and earliest Celtic love knots that can be traced as far back as 2500 BC. It represents endless love and eternal life.
  • Celtic Motherhood Knot (aka icovellavna) – This represents the enduring and undying love between a mother and her child. 
  • Celtic Square Love Knot – This love knot is made out of a single line that runs through all four sides of a square that is commonly used in wedding rings. It symbolizes unity and loyalty between couples that are about to tie the knot.
  • Serch Bythol – This is a symbol made up of two Celtic knots placed side by side to represent the everlasting love between partners. 
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Harp

Harp symbol of love

The belief that harps represent love can be traced to Europeans, specifically to the Ancient Celts and people from Norway and Iceland. For the Celts, harps serve as a bridge of love that connects heaven and earth. In Norway and Iceland, residents believe that harp strings form a ladder that leads to higher states of love. 

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Rose

Red rose

Roses are one of the most common symbols of love. The tradition of using roses to symbolize a person’s love mainly comes from literature, with Shakespeare making an allusion to roses in his famous work, Romeo and Juliet.  But did you know that the flowers themselves were simply transported from China to Europe in the 1800s? 

However, roses symbolize different kinds of love depending on the colors of the flowers themselves. These include the following:

  • Red – deep affection to a romantic partner
  • Pink – token of admiration, gentle love
  • White – sign of remembrance and respect
  • Purple – adoration, fascination
  • Lavender – love at first sight
  • Yellow – friendship, care
  • Orange – passion, enthusiasm, romance
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Maple Leaf

Maple leaf

Maple leaves also symbolized love for Ancient Chinese and Japanese people. Specifically, the red maple leaf is used to represent the sweetness of love in everyday life because of the association of its leaves to the sweet maple syrup. That’s why a maple leaf usually serves as a reminder of the beauty of love to couples both young and old.

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Shell

Shell love symbol

Shells are one of the most ancient symbols of love. One reason behind this is the fact that there are stories from Greek Mythology stating that Aphrodite was born out of a great big shell. 

But shells are popular symbols of love not just for Europeans but also for Native Americans because of their protective nature, since they contain precious pearls. Hindus, meanwhile, believe that the conch shell is used to call love.

Wrapping Up

The above symbols of love are among the most famous love symbols there are. Although ancient, they still remain at the forefront of romance, with couples gifting each other these symbols as a representation of their desire and love for each other.

List of love symbols

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